The Closing of the American Mind makes for interesting reading today. The thrust of its complaint about elites and relativism has only intensified. But some of it does not hold up well at all. Take its snarkily written chapter with the heading “The Nietzscheanization of the Left or Vice Versa,” for example. In it, Bloom argued that the left had largely abandoned the discredited economic doctrines of Marx and, in their place, adopted a stylized anti-bourgeois Nietzsche. Nietzsche and his “will to power” over flabby liberal values no longer sustainable by reason or myth were still casting a revolutionary spell, Bloom asserted, but it was no longer over adherents of German and Italian fascism, discredited (to say the least) as those movements were by the horrors of World War II.
Nietzsche’s thought was now being transmitted through European leftists such as Georg Lukacs, Alexandre Kojeve, Maurice Merleau-Ponty and Jean-Paul Sartre, who had jettisoned Marx’s “embarrassing economic determinism” and created a new “mutant” crossbreed of Nietzsche and Marx:
The mature Marx had almost nothing to say about art, music, literature, or education, or about what the life of man would be when the yoke of oppression was lifted. His early “humanistic” writings were looked by some for the inspiration lacking in the later ones, but they turned out to be thin and derivative stuff. Since the Nietzscheans spoke so marvelously well about all these things, why not just appropriate what they said? So they took over “the last man,” whom they identified with the Marx’s bourgeois, and “the superman,” whom they identified with the victorious proletarian after the revolution. [The Closing of the American Mind]
Without crawling further into the weeds, suffice it to say that, in 2017, the philosophical picture that Bloom painted in 1987 has been inverted. In the post-crash, post-Picketty era of global inequality, the Marxist-minded left is very much interested in those discarded economic doctrines. And the far right, as evidenced by Spencer and his ilk, is very much interested in Nietzsche as he was originally understood by 20th-century fascists.
Lord, what a deeply stupid article. I mean, Francis Fukuyama may have proclaimed “the end of history” after the fall of the USSR, but I’m pretty sure even he never suggested that political fashions would no longer be recycled in the same superficial manner as clothing and pop music. Yes, the “Marxist-minded left” most certainly has been doing its best to reanimate the mummified corpse of their old dogma. And what of it? Even as we speak, Venezuela is busy segueing from every airhead’s favorite example of “hope for the socialist future” to the inevitable “it was never real socialism anyway” denouement. Progressive media’s favorite neo-Nazi claims to have been inspired by Nietzsche? Well, yes, as ever, people can find whichever philosophical justification in Nietzsche they’re determined to find, fascists included. Is this supposed to tell us something meaningful about the substance of these beliefs, or are we just supposed to find something profound about the ephemeral fact that everything old is currently new again? What happens in a few years when Trump is out of office, the media are bounding around after a different red laser dot, socialist theory is still moribund, and today’s social media revolutionaries have all reached their thirties and settled down with corporate careers and families? Will that make Bloom prescient again? To address questions like that, you’d need context and perspective, and you’re not going to find them amid this tripe.
Ironically enough, this article itself reads as a confirmation of Bloom’s point. Whether he was right or wrong in asserting that the left has settled for an aesthetic style of politics after losing faith in historical dialectic and economic determinism isn’t the point; this is just a rhetorical angle from which to approach the actual subject of the article, namely Richard Spencer. Because God knows, criminally stupid progressive media clickwhores haven’t given the man enough free publicity as it is. They need a narrative, and a demographic that was apparently educated by the History Channel naturally responded to Brexit, Trump, et. al. by seeing Nazis, Nazis everywhere. Not because it provided a useful explanatory framework to understand these events, but because it provides said demographic with a chance to LARP as the French Resistance and thus provides a frisson of purpose to their comfortable lives, which they feel terribly guilty about anyway. It presses down hard on nerves that have been long since deadened by comfort and security. There’s no reason to believe that “Spencer and his ilk” are any more pervasive or threatening than any other fringe white-power groups from the last several decades, but he’s become the subject of countless media profiles in recent months because he plays a central role in the story progressives love to repeatedly tell themselves, and if the fact that so much political punditry consists of nothing but this storytelling doesn’t prove that Bloom was pinpoint-accurate in his assessment, I don’t know what would.